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How Did Snapchat Beat Twitter? Face Swap

Ringer illustration
Ringer illustration

A conspiratorial corner of my brain thinks Snapchat is deliberately designed to baffle people older than 22, like that high-pitched ringtone for students created to evade teachers’ decrepit old-people ears. Yet Snapchat is so popular, more people use it on a daily basis than Twitter, according to a recent Bloomberg report. Snapchat has 150 million daily users while Twitter has under 140 million, and they can’t all be teens. Dismissing the app as a sext fad is, at this point, obtuse.

I downloaded Snapchat three years ago and then just sort of stared at it like Robert De Niro stares at his MacBook in The Intern. Unlike Robert De Niro in The Intern, I did not have a younger work bud to help me be less elderly, so I remained confused. I only started using Snapchat a few months ago, when I Googled how to face-swap (turn the front-facing camera on, hold down on your face until Snapchat’s filter options appear, scroll to the face-swap option). And then I got it: Face swap RULES. You can see what your face looks like on your friend’s head. You can see what your face looks like on a baby’s head. You can see what your face looks like on Tim Allen’s head on the cover of Tim Allen’s 1994 memoir Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man. Ever wonder if you would look ugly if your face was the Crying Jordan meme? You don’t have to wonder.

Try to name one social app that wouldn’t be at least marginally improved by a face-swap feature. Facebook? Facebook knows it would be better with face-swapping, which is why it bought face-swapping app Masquerade.

Instagram? Sure, why not see what my face looks like on someone else’s head with the X-Pro II filter slapped on top.

Foursquare? Dog, I don’t know why you’re still using Foursquare, but swapping faces with the barista at whatever cafe you’re the mayor of this week must make it better.

As Snapchat continues to grow in spite of its apparent apathy towards intuitive design — and buoyed by the fact that it’s stupid-fun to use — Twitter is in the middle of its 447th identity crisis. Twitter would also be improved by a face-swap option, but adding features that appeal to power users isn’t Twitter’s M.O. right now. (And no, face swap alone would not save Twitter. But the silly joy that it brings is exactly what Twitter is missing.)

Twitter’s growth strategy is a mess. It continues to roll out small tweaks (character limit adjustments) or dumb tweaks (Moments, which manages to be an even shittier version of Facebook’s Trending feature) without addressing its pernicious abuse issue. In recent years, many of the changes to Twitter have been focused on drawing new users in, with the goal of making the microblogging platform Facebook-level easy for any newcomer to use. Almost all of these changes have annoyed power users. None of them have made Twitter more fun. Meanwhile, many of Snapchat’s tweaks reward its most dedicated users instead of alienating them. Updates like secret filter tricks and play counts for Stories exist to make those who already happy happier, not to lure new people.

There are signs that Twitter is starting to get it. The company is reportedly testing a livestreaming button to integrate Periscope into the main Twitter platform, something it should’ve done from the beginning. But playing catch-up with Facebook Live isn’t enough.

I’m not saying that Twitter is on the precipice of extinction. As a public news and commentary feed, it’s still the best. But Snapchat, despite its flaws, is a far better way to talk with friends — and unless Twitter makes updates that actually improve it as a method of communication, the only thing it’ll stay neck-and-neck with Snapchat on is which company’s CEO is the thirstiest bro.